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The Complete Guide to Workplace Mental Health

workplace mental health

Jobs and careers are supposed to be a good thing, right? Your job should provide a place where you can use your gifts, talents, and education to make a difference in this world, big or small. It should be a place where you can build confidence and excel. However, that isn’t what it is for many people. Reports show that when it comes to workplace mental health, most people find their job mentally unhealthy. That means that for many people, work is just another place that is pulling them down and adding to the weight they are already carrying.

Why is Mental Health Important in the Workplace?

Take a look at these statistics:

I could list pages and pages of statistics like this for you, but I think you get the point. Mental health is a big deal in the workplace. There are hundreds of millions of people that are already dealing with mental health challenges on a regular basis, and they don’t need to add to these challenges while at work. Creating an environment for good workplace mental health benefits the economy as a whole and each individual employee.

What does it look like?

To address the issue of mental health within the workplace we first need to be able to recognize when there is a problem. The main reason that there is such a struggle within the workplace is due to the fact that so many people struggle with mental health challenges outside of work. The entire scope would include disorders like depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar, psychosis, and substance abuse, and much more.

Companies that do the following will create further problems for workplace mental health:

  • Require employees to work long hours or constant over-time
  • Create an environment where employees are always worried that they will lose their job if they make an error
  • Micromanage employees
  • Don’t place value on input from employees
  • Sets expectations that cannot be met
  • Allows employees to work in unsafe conditions
  • Not holding all employees accountable for their actions

The symptoms that people demonstrate when struggling with mental health challenges can range from mild to severe, which can make it difficult for people to detect if they don’t know what to look for. Here are just some of the symptoms you will notice if there are employees having mental health issues at work:

  • Mood change
  • Increase in calling in sick
  • Drop in productivity
  • Withdrawal / reduced interaction with other employees
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Nervousness
  • Appetite changes
  • Unusual behavior
  • Lack of work/life balance

Try this survey from Mental Health America to see how your workplace fairs in regards to mental health.

How to Create the Right Environment to Improve Workplace Mental Health

Work smarter, not longer

Do not fall for believing that in order to get more work done you need to work longer hours. Studies have been conducted that find that after a certain amount of hours of work, mental health is affected and employees become less productive. But, the good news is there are other ways to get done the work that is needed. Many times improving the processes and systems that are used in the workplace can improve productivity without requiring workers to spend more time at work.

Educate on mental health

Many people are suffering silently with their mental health challenges.

According to Mental Health America, “56% of American adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment.”

That means there is a good chance that in any given workplace there are people that need help with a mental health challenge, but they are not getting it.

There are a few common reasons why people don’t seek help. One reason is lack of adequate insurance to cover mental health challenges. Even when it comes to physical health, most people dislike going to see a doctor and it costs them out-of-pocket money just to go, even if it’s only a little. So, when they do have to go, they want to a quick solution so they can get back to work. However, when it comes to mental health, it isn’t that easy and treatment involves meeting with a professional on a more regular basis. When people don’t want to pay for that they just don’t go.

Another common reason that people don’t seek the help they need is that they don’t realize that they are experiencing an actual mental health challenge. They might believe it’s just their personality or stress. Helping people get a professional diagnosis and treatment is an important step towards making real changes. There are a few ways that employers can encourage this:

  • Bring in a speaker – Treat your employees to a paid luncheon or seminar and bring in a mental health speaker. Another option is to invest in mental health first aid training. Your employees can learn how to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment if they need it.
  • Encourage self-education – Encourage employees to take online assessments so they can see if they are possibly struggling with an undiagnosed mental health challenge.
  • Provide tips and information – Provide employees with information on how to reduce stress and make healthy life choices for both physical and mental health. Provide resources.

Be flexible with hours and options

Employees that have more control over their work hours have better mental health. Professors Phyllis Moen and Erin Kelly conducted research that looked into this issue. At one IT company, they divided employees into two groups. One group had full control over their schedules and the second group acted as the control group and worked the hours scheduled by the employer. They also looked at Best Buy who had created their own program allowing employees to have control of their schedules.

This Psychology Today article cites the following results were found, “Those worker/employees in the experimental group (i.e. those allowed total flexibility in their work schedule) met their work goals and responsibilities as reliably as the control group! In addition, those with flexible work schedules also rated themselves as being happier, healthier, were sleeping better and overall experienced less stress.”

People struggling with mental health issues have different needs. It may be easier for some to work in the morning, or only in the afternoon, while others will fair better working remotely. Look for opportunities to allow your employees to control their work schedule.

Improve communication within the workplace

Managers and employees should be trained in proper communication within the workplace. Many companies provide customer service training to ensure that employees are communicating effectively with customers, but few do the same for the communication within their business. Each individual in the company should have regular training on how to communicate verbally and non-verbally. Employees need to feel a sense of trust so they can talk to their managers if they have questions or problems. And, managers should be trained to effectively lead, mentor, and coach their employees. There should be plenty of encouragement, positive motivation, and support.

Mental health should not be a taboo topic that cannot be discussed. Employees struggling with mental health challenges should not feel that their job is threatened if they make it known that they might be struggling with a mental health challenge (or anything for that matter). Companies need to be proactive about removing the stigma surrounding subject of mental health.

Provide proper outlets for people to deal with stress

It is impossible to eliminate all stress, but workplaces can provide ways for employees to deal with it properly. This is where companies need to use some creativity in looking for ways to help employees deal with stress. Here are a few options that others have found helpful:

  • Transform part of the office into a fitness room – Allow employees to workout before work, after work, or even on their lunch break. Exercise has been proven time and again to help reduce stress. Encourage them to step away from a task when they feel stuck and spend 5 minutes doing something that gets them moving and their mind off their problem.
  • Chair massages – Choose one afternoon a month to bring in a massage therapist to do chair massages. Employees can schedule 10 minutes away from their desk to work the tension out.
  • Put a walking path around the building – If your company has some property surrounding the building put in a nice walking path. It can be good for workplace mental health if you allow employees to change their environment, get some fresh air, and move a little. If you don’t have room to do this but are located in a city draw out a safe walking route that employees could use when needed.
  • Encourage taking time off – Some companies provide paid vacation time to employees, but then make them feel guilty when they ask to use their time off. Vacation time is good for mental health. Encourage your employees to use their time and make them feel comfortable that they will not be penalized at work because of it. Do what you can to spread their work out among others while they are gone so they aren’t walking back into piles of work.

Offer paid parental leave benefits

Everyone’s mental health can suffer during periods of life transition, even when they are joyful events. In America, women are allowed 12 weeks off after bringing home a new baby under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, the law does not require that the leave is paid and there are certain restrictions that dictate if it applies to you. Instead, women can use short-term disability in order to be compensated for 6 weeks of time off after having a baby. If there are complications or the woman has a cesarean section than she is entitled 8 weeks of pay. Not many families can afford to take an additional 4 to 6 weeks off unpaid so new moms are going back to work with babies that are only 1 or 2 months old.

Dads on the other hand usually only take off a couple of days from work when a new baby arrives. Many men could qualify for FMLA, but can’t take unpaid time and keep the bills paid.

Jody Heymann, director and founder of the World Policy Analysis Center at UCLA says, “Overwhelmingly, the most competitive countries in the world – the ones with the strongest economies and the lowest unemployment – do provide paid leave for dads, showing this is feasible.”

America is one of the only countries in the UN that doesn’t provide paid parental leave. Many countries are providing parents with far more time off and compensating them so they can afford it. This allows parents to adjust to life, keep themselves healthy and rested, and provide their new child with the care they need during a crucial time in life. This would go a long way for workplace mental health of men, women, and for the new child that has been brought into the home.

Create a plan to improve workplace mental health

You can improve the mental health in your work environments. But, in order to do so, you need to create a plan and get buy-in from your company. Things will not just magically change on their own. Here are some steps you can take to change your business environment:

Assess the situation

Your first step in making a change is finding out where you are. Take anonymous surveys of the employees to find out where your company currently stands. Do your employees need more resources and additional help? What areas do they think could be improved? Take some time to gather data on your productivity levels and the number of days that your employees are absent.

Set goals

Once you know where the problems are you know what to address. Set SMART goals to improve the workplace for your employees. If you have a high number of days absent than set a goal on how much you want to lower it by and by what date.

Make a plan

Once your goals are set it’s time to find the actionable items that will help you achieve your goals. What steps are you going to take in order to change your environment? How are you going to educate your managers and employees about mental health challenges and what symptoms to look for? What changes can you make in the workplace to help you make it a healthier place for everyone?


As you begin to make changes you need to constantly monitor the progress. When you find something that is helping continue to build in that direction. If you find something that isn’t working do not continue to put your efforts there. Make changes as you need to.

Fixing workplace mental health challenges is a win-win situation for everyone that is involved. Employees will have the help they need to live healthier lives and reach their potential. And, employers will see a reduction in lost money due to increased productivity levels and a reduction in the amount of days employees are absent. Improving mental health should be addressed as a team because the benefits are for everyone.


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